Many companies employ a few inspectors in China and, in parallel, pay third-party quality assurance agencies. It makes a lot of sense but is not always done right.
Usually, the roles are divided as follows.
The in-house QA team:
• May go to factories for a pre-production meeting where potential problems are listed and addressed
• Goes to factories during production
• Check the production status and alerts purchasers/merchandisers of possible delays
• Check processes and/or product quality
• Follow up on corrections if quality issues are found
• Have a presence on site and avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome so common in China
The third-party inspectors:
• Go to factories after products are completed and packed
• Follow a strict procedure for evaluating product quality
• Issue a pass/fail result
• If severe issues were found and the batch had to be reworked: come for a re-inspection
Therefore the whole approach is different.
In-house QA technicians are coming to help the factories. They find issues and give feedback, and they might come back more often if serious issues were detected. But there is no direct impact on the supplier’s business.
In contrast, third-party inspectors look more like policemen. If they don’t find any problem, the goods can ship and the supplier gets paid. This is often seen as undue power by factories, who naturally resent it. There are many conflicts at this stage.
One additional problem is the lack of calibration. QA technicians and third-party QC inspectors don’t fill out their reports in the same way. At the risk of over-generalizing, QA technicians seldom follow a well-structured approach and it is difficult to compare their findings to those of the QC inspectors.
It means it is difficult to see if the third-party inspectors found the same issues as the QA technicians. It is impossible to see if issues found during production were really fixed or at least minimized after the in-line inspection.
To avoid this issue, here are a few tips:
• Make sure the checkpoints are the same for both teams
• Make sure the list of potential defects is the same for both teams
• Have the QA team observe and/or train the third-party QC guys
• Have QC guys do a few inspections just after the QA team, and compare results
Renaud Anjoran has been managing his quality assurance agency (Sofeast Ltd) since 2006. In addition, a passion for improving the way people work has pushed him to launch a consultancy to improve factories and a web application to manage the purchasing process. He writes advice for importers on qualityinspection.org.